Headlines: July 20, 2020
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The long-time Congressman and civil rights icon John Lewis passed away on Friday at the age of 80. The revered lawmaker represented Georgia’s 5th district for over 3 decades. Lewis cut his activist teeth in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in the 1960s and was a leading participant in the 1965 Voting Rights march in Selma, Alabama where he and others were beaten by state troopers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in what came to be known as “Bloody Sunday.” Some are now calling for that bridge to be renamed after Lewis. Writing in the Washington Post, former Attorney General Eric Holder said, “John Lewis fought for voting rights. If you’re against that, you’re against him.” California Representative Karen Bass reiterated that message in calling for the passage of the Voting Rights Advancement Act and Senator Kamala Harris called on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to introduce the bill in the Senate. In recent years conservatives on the US Supreme Court unraveled key sections of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that Lewis helped win the fight for and the Voting Rights Advancement Act is aimed at renewing the full right to vote. Republicans in particular have worked hard to suppress votes. In the wake of Congressman Lewis’ death, two GOP Senators — Marco Rubio and Dan Sullivan—posted photos on social media to try to commemorate Lewis but mistakenly posted photos of another late Black Congressman, Elijah Cummings. The state of Georgia will decide on Monday who is to replace Lewis on the November ballot as he was up for reelection and had just won his primary.
Meanwhile President Donald Trump on Sunday in a wide-ranging interview with Fox News’ Chris Wallace equated the Black Lives Matter movement with support for the Confederate Flag – a pro-slavery symbol. When asked if he was offended by the confederate flag Trump said, “I’m not offended either by Black Lives Matter, that’s freedom of speech… When people proudly have their Confederate flags, they’re not talking about racism. They love their flag, it represents the south.” But Americans are increasingly rejecting racist symbolism and embracing the Black Lives Matter movement. On Monday thousands of people walked off their jobs in a political expression of solidarity called Strike for Black Lives. Labor unions in particular including the American Federation of Teachers and SEIU were involved in the strike.
Also during Trump’s hour-long interview with Wallace on Sunday, the biggest story of the world was a main focus and that is the on-going coronavirus pandemic. The Washington Post explained that Trump, “defended his fumbled management of the pandemic with a barrage of dubious and false claims, and revealed his lack of understanding about the fundamental science of how the virus spreads and infects people.” Trump claimed that the US had the lowest mortality rate from the virus in the world, which is simply untrue as only a handful of other nations in the world have a worse mortality rate than the US. Trump also ominously refused to give a straight answer on whether he would accept the results of the November election if he lost.
During the interview Trump reiterated his often-repeated claim that the coronavirus would “simply disappear” one day. But so far that does not seem to be playing out and quite the opposite is true with 140,000 deaths in the US now attributed to the pandemic. Senate Minority leader Chuck Schumer slammed the President saying in a letter to Democrats that Trump, “continues to deny the severity of the pandemic.” Indeed on Saturday the Washington Post reported that the White House is blocking the appropriation of billions of dollars in the next relief bill for states to be able to adequately do Covid-19 testing and contact tracing. The move has even angered some of Trump’s Republican allies. The President met with some GOP lawmakers on Monday to apparently address their concerns as Senate Majority Leader McConnell prepares to unveil a $1 trillion relief package in the next few days. Millions of unemployed Americans who have been surviving on $600 a week in Covid-related jobless benefits are waiting with bated breath as that cash is on the verge of drying up. But corporations through their lobbyists are pushing to the front of the line demanding that handouts via tax breaks from the federal government for their industries be prioritized in the next bill. Meanwhile the New York Times estimated that more than 6 million Americans signed up for food stamps in the first three months of the pandemic – a trend that the paper called, “an unprecedented expansion” of the federal program.
On Sunday the Congressional Progressive Caucus announced that it would formally oppose the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) because of its oversized military budget. Linking military spending to the struggle of Covid-stricken Americans, the CPC tweeted, “Rubber-stamping a record $740 billion for the Pentagon shortchanges millions of families trying to get by in this crisis.” Also attached to the NDAA will be an amendment being added by Senator Jeff Merkley who represents Oregon. Merkley said on social media, “When I get back to D.C. next week, I will be introducing an amendment to the defense bill with Sen. Ron Wyden to stop the Trump administration from sending its paramilitary squads onto America’s streets.” He added separately, “What he is doing in my state is the stuff of dictatorships and nightmares.” What Merkley was referring to are the numerous documented instances in recent days of unmarked federal agents, now confirmed to be employed by the Department of Homeland Security, deployed to Portland, Oregon where they are violently arresting protesters involved with Black Lives Matter. The state of Oregon has now sued DHS to stop the federal officers but Homeland Security has defied calls to pull back saying, “We’re not going to apologize.”
On Monday Trump defended the use of federal officers speaking to reporters in the White House saying they were all “anarchists” who “hate our country.” But among the protesters that Trump’s federal officers have roughed up in Portland was a 53-year old disabled US Navy veteran named Christopher David who was seen on video being beaten on the legs with batons and pepper sprayed in the face at close range. At one point on Saturday a woman wearing nothing but a facemask sat down in front of federal officers, confounding them, and in a separate incident dozens of women saying they were mothers, formed a human protective wall around hundreds of protesters. The “Wall of Moms” as they called themselves, chanted, “Feds stay clear! Moms are here!” As House Democrats write a letter to federal Inspectors General saying Trump has, “abused emergency authorities to justify the use of force against Americans,” the White House is now preparing to dispatch more such squads of federal officers to other cities. White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows named three cities: Portland, Chicago, and Milwaukee – all three with Democratic leadership.
And finally, a man thought to be posing as a Fed Ex delivery agent shot and killed the 20-year old son of a New York federal judge named Esther Salas and injured her husband. District Judge Salas oversaw the high-profile cases of Jeffrey Epstein and Deutsche Bank among others. No motive is as yet known and as of Monday a New York City Attorney who was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound is being considered the suspected shooter.